Beautiful rounds of rice filled with colorful tidbits of food...
Graceful arcs of fish resting on a tiny bed of rice...
Sushi is a dish that most people are familiar with. At least they’re familiar with the name.
But what exactly is sushi?
And where did it come from? Let's find out!
The word sushi actually refers to the rice in the dish, specifically how the rice is prepared, rather than the sushi roll.
The Japanese word ‘su’ means vinegar, and ‘shi’ comes from meshi. That’s an abbreviation of the Japanese word for rice. Put them together and you get ‘vinegar-ed rice’ or sushi.
The origins of sushi began roughly in the 2nd century in China as a way to preserve fish.
Freshly caught and cleaned fish was layered in dry rice. Then it was left for a few weeks. The process caused the rice to ferment and the fish would be pickled.
This preservation technique prevented spoilage so the fish could be eaten as needed. Which is a big plus, because freezing and refrigeration wouldn’t be invented for several centuries!
In China, the rice was tossed out as the fish was used. When this method of preservation made its way to Japan, by about the 7th century, the Japanese kept the rice as a part of the dish.
Getting Creative With Fish And Rice
By the 1800s sushi was a regular menu item in Japanese cuisine.
A man named Hanaya Yohei came up with a new way to make and serve sushi. Instead of wrapping the fish in rice, he took a finger-sized “block” of rice and topped it with a piece of fresh fish.
A new style of sushi was born called “nigiri sushi” or finger sushi. Also called “edomae sushi”-from Edo, the name of Tokyo at the time, and this was where Hanaya Yohei lived.
During the 19th century, sushi was served from sushi stalls on the street and was meant to be a snack or quick bite to eat on the go. Fast-food sushi!
Many varieties of sushi are available, and they’re meant to be enjoyed as finger food. And instead of just referring to the rice, today many people refer to the whole dish as sushi.
Four Common Kinds Of Sushi Plus Sashimi
Nigiri- a block of sushi rice topped with either raw or cooked seafood. A familiar raw version would be one topped with Ahi Tuna. Ones served with cooked seafood would be topped with a prawn or unagi, which is cooked freshwater eel.
Maki- what most people think of with sushi, is prepared rice and either seafood or vegetables wrapped in seaweed, or nori.
Uramaki- this is similar to maki, but it’s inside out. The seaweed wraps the filling and the rice is on the outside.
Temaki- this is sushi that is rolled by hand into a cone shape.
Sashimi- often confused with sushi, it’s fish or shellfish that’s served raw and without the rice.
Sushi is found all over the world! The beautiful presentations are either prepared with traditional Japanese ingredients or modified to suit the local flavors.
Fun Fact About Nori
The sheets of nori used to wrap sushi rolls is seaweed that has been collected and dried on wooden frames. The process was adapted from the Japanese paper-making industry.
How to make sushi at home
With a few ingredients and some patience, you can make sushi at home.
Vegetarian Maki Roll
Heavy-duty aluminum foil or a Bamboo Sushi Mat
Nori sheets made for sushi
2/3 cup. short-grain white rice
3 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
1 to 1 ½ Tablespoons White Sugar
1 ½ Teaspoons Salt
1 Cucumber, peeled and cut into small strips
1 Avocado, peeled and sliced
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut into strips
Step 1: Prepare the rice. Rinse the rice, swirl it around a bit, until the water runs clear. Then bring 1 1/3 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan, add the rice, and simmer on low heat-covered tightly-for 15 minutes. Remove it from the heat and let it stand for another 5 minutes.
Step 2: While the rice is cooking, mix the Vinegar, Sugar, and Salt together, until the sugar and salt dissolve. Add this to the rice once it’s done cooking, and stir it up.
Heat the Nori Sheets in a pre-heated 300-degree oven for a couple of minutes, just until they’re warm. This will make them pliable.
Step 3: Take a sheet of Nori and center it on a square of aluminum foil or a bamboo sushi mat. Spread a thin layer of rice on the nori. Pat it down with dampened hands to even it out. Place the strips of cucumber, avocado, and bell pepper in about the center of the sheet. Lift one end of the foil, or mat, and gently fold it over the ingredients. Roll it the rest of the way, and repeat with the remaining ingredients.
Step 4: Slice each roll using a sharp or serrated knife. The easiest way to do this is to take a wet paper towel and dampen the knife. Then wipe it again after each cut. That way the nori will cut, instead of tear.
Tips for the veggies: When cutting the strips of cucumber, avocado, and pepper, think matchstick size. Trim the edges to make little rectangles. This will make the roll a bit more even. Plus, it takes practice to roll the rice just right. You can do it!
Serve your awesome homemade sushi rolls with soy sauce for dipping and some pickled ginger.
Explore different ingredients and flavors to personalize your sushi, and get creative!
You can find other fun dishes in our eat2explore Japan box!